If you are one of the unfortunate few who are stuck in waitlist hell, there is some information you may not know that could make the time until you find out their decision more tolerable.
One thing applicants often want to know is how many people are on the waitlist at their particular school. Unfortunately, this is a black box and schools do not generally disclose an exact number of people who are waitlisted. Candidates on the waitlist may be admitted at any time, which makes the wait particularly painful, since unlike regular round admissions where there is a decision date or notification date, the waitlist candidates struggle with every day or week potentially being the day or week the phone will ring with an admission offer or a release from the waitlist.
In addition to being stressful for the waitlisted candidate, this also makes the number on the list fluctuate and difficult to track even for the schools themselves. When the pressure is too great, or when other offers are made from competing schools (or plans change), candidates and sometimes choose to remove their name from the waitlist at any point in the process. Therefore, the actual number of candidates on the waitlist can literally vary from day to day.
Because Admissions Committees limit the number of applicants who are extended a place on the waitlist, you are in good company with a relatively small number of fellow applicants, so make sure you remain on the list if you are still interested. Due to yield dynamics and the fact that students can change their mind when they receive offers from other schools at the last minute, candidates can sometimes be offered admission as late as the day before classes begin. Every year there is a last minute shuffle of the deck, as students jump ship for their dream school who comes calling at the 11th hour, which obviously opens up a slot wherever they had already accepted. Sure, they lose deposit money, but the chance to go where they really want makes it worth it.
Despite the name “waitlist,” there are several things you can do besides simply wait for your dream school to call.
From a strategic standpoint, sitting in a state of limbo gives you the opportunity to improve your profile or status as a candidate, and such improvements can and should be communicated to the admissions committees.
The way you do this is straightforward and usually as simple as sending a short email with the update (e.g. you were promoted at work, received some kind of community award or position, or got an A in that accounting class you were taking at the local community college). It is important to note that you should never revise your application with any information which could have been included in the original application (so don’t submit things that you “forgot” to include—this would be considered poor judgment), but rather only new information or changes in your profile which are potentially interesting or important to your candidacy.
Most schools will also accept new GMAT or GRE scores from an applicant who has elected to remain active on the waitlist. Of course deciding to retake the GMAT or GRE may or may not be the right thing for you, but certainly if you feel that you did not perform on the GMAT at your highest potential, it might make sense to retake the test and subsequently submit the higher score.
When deciding to retest or not, sometimes it helps to view your performance on the test in light of your target schools’ 80% range (instead of its average score).
For example, a top tier school may post a 720 average GMAT, but the 80% range is 650-750. If your score was in the lower range of the 80th percentile, it could indeed help boost your chances, certainly vs. someone else on the waitlist who is not re-testing. If you elect to take the GMAT or GRE again, make sure you tell your target school’s admission office so they can be on the lookout for your new score. Obviously when you take the test, you will need to request the score be officially submitted to your school. It typically takes one to three weeks for the score to be received once requested.
One thing many candidates want to know is whether or not the waitlist is ranked and if so what their number is. In most cases, schools claim their waitlist is not ranked, but even if you do not update the committee on any changes in your profile or GMAT scores, it is important at the very least that you inform the committee of your intention to remain active on the waitlist, since only those applicants who have elected to remain active on the waitlist will be considered for admission. Each school has a different process, so make sure you reach out and touch base with them individually.
Schools generally reassess the waitlist with each subsequent new round of applications, but after the third round, there is clearly a long period of time until August when orientation starts. Don’t lose heart, and remember to remain in contact with the adcom (in a thoughtful way, for example one touchpoint per month to reiterate your interest). Who knows? Perhaps that call will come.